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Stephen  Bevan

A welcome focus on mental illness by Mr Miliband

Authors: Stephen Bevan Stephen Bevan

29 October 2012

A third of people in the UK say they would not be willing to work with someone who has a mental health problem. Despite the progress which has been made to raise awareness of mental illness in the UK, one of the biggest barriers to a breakthrough is stigma.

In his speech today, Opposition leader Ed Miliband added to the growing number of voices calling for a fundamental change in the way we think about, prevent and treat mental illness. Part of the answer has to be about undermining what he called the ‘taboo’ surrounding these conditions. He is especially critical of popular myths about mental illness perpetuated by celebrities who should know better or who want a cheap laugh. Given how ‘normal’ mental illness is in society, it seems odd that it remains such a stigmatised condition. A reminder of a few sobering facts.

At least one third of all families (including parents and their children) include someone who is currently mentally ill. Mental illness has the same effect on life-expectancy as smoking, and a bigger impact than obesity. Nearly a third of all people with long-term physical conditions have a co-morbid mental health problem like depression or anxiety disorders. Up to 50 per cent of mentally ill adults were mentally ill before the age of 15. The drug most frequently used to treat depression is alcohol. We still have a long way to go.

The Work Foundation welcomes any moves to break through the stubborn barrier of stigma. We have conducted our own research into depression among workers with chronic illness, looked at the complex issue of Stress at Work, and before Christmas will be publishing a major new report looking at the barriers to employment for people living with schizophrenia – perhaps the most stigmatised mental illness of them all. We will support all efforts to tackle mental illness in modern workplaces – many of which are still tough places openly to admit depression or anxiety if you want a career or even to be taken seriously as a colleague.